Money Lead Gives Romney A Needed Jolt

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

DERRY, N.H., April 3 -- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney found it difficult to suppress a grin as he campaigned across New Hampshire on Tuesday, savoring the accolades for having bested the Republican fundraising field in one of the first key tests of the 2008 campaign for president.

The day after announcing that he had raised $21 million in the first three months of the year, his organization has already turned to the next important task: how to best make use of the money he raised to transform a still-unknown candidate stuck in the single digits in national polls into a household name that can compete with his better-known rivals in both parties.

"I have the support I need to run a campaign through the primaries," he said in an interview between stops here. "I can be competitive with Hillary Clinton. I can be competitive with someone in my own party. Money is not going to be our issue. Message is not our issue. The desire for change in Washington is screaming out of the heartland of America and can be heard from coast to coast."

In stark contrast to Romney's fundraising success was Sen. John McCain's disappointing third-place showing among GOP candidates, a combination that tested the conventional wisdom regarding the ever-expanding field of Republican contenders.

The senator from Arizona has seen his poll numbers drop as he defends President Bush's strategy in the unpopular war in Iraq. His lackluster fundraising, which the campaign described as "disappointing," made a bad month for McCain even worse. His campaign reported raising $12.5 million.

A senior aide to McCain, who has been trailing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in most national polls, said Tuesday that the senator will give what they called a major speech on Iraq on April 11. The senator returns this week from Iraq, where he is leading a congressional delegation.

The aide said McCain wants to speak "directly to Americans" after visiting Iraq and discussing the situation there with Gen. David H. Petraeus. He will give the speech at the Virginia Military Institute, said the aide, who spoke anonymously because the campaign had not formally announced the speech.

One McCain aide blamed the failure to raise more money on structural problems related to a failure to provide big donors the opportunity and incentive to contribute outside of events where McCain or a surrogate was present. "This kind of environment, you raise money every day, every hour. Not just when you are doing events," the aide said.

The perception problems for McCain may be compounded in 10 days, when the details of the campaign filings will reveal how much money the senator still has to spend. Once considered the clear front-runner among Republicans, McCain has spent years building a large and costly campaign organization with expensive consultants and a large staff.

Romney aides said the dramatic fundraising announcement has instantly altered their own campaign dynamic. Calls to their finance team spiked this week. The candidate was trailed Tuesday by national news crews, including a "60 Minutes" team, and interviews with him led all three morning news programs. As one staffer put it: "Lots of boom mikes."

And the campaign is immediately putting the money to use. New television ads will begin running Wednesday in Iowa and New Hampshire in which he promises to veto federal spending that exceeds a cap he will propose. The campaign was already the first to begin running TV spots earlier this year.

But money is not going to solve all of Romney's challenges, such as the reality that he has been dogged by critics for allegedly changing his position on issues dear to the hearts of many conservatives, including abortion. And polls suggest his Mormon faith is likely to prove a liability among many voters. Aides have said that dealing directly with those questions in the early debates may begin to move his poll numbers up nationally.

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